Twenty-four years, a political party and a gulf of ideology separates the first two women to share the nation’s major party tickets. But has the way the media talks about Sarah Palin and Geraldine Ferraro changed?

Not so much, according to ongoing research by members of “the Palin Watch” at The University of Alabama.  

Newspapers around North America have used similar media frames to describe these very different women, who made vice-presidential runs at different times and for different parties.

Both of these women’s candidacies were framed by the media around, 1) their questionable experience, 2) their selection as a political stunt, and 3) their selection as a gamble.

Experience: Both Palin and Ferraro were discussed in terms of their questionable experience, perhaps because both were relative unknowns on the national stage. Unlike many VP nominees, they had not participated in the Presidential primaries. In 1984, the Washington Post observed that Ferraro compared poorly with other House representatives of her generation. In 2008, the Sunday New York Times noted individuals and groups that cited Palin’s lack of experience.

Political stunt: Both Palin and Ferraro were discussed as token stunts to appease particular voting demographics. In 1984, the Wall Street Journal and New York Times referred to the demands of feminists that presumably guided Mondale’s choice and Ferraro’s campaign. In 2008, the New York Times identified McCain’s choice of Palin as not only an appeal for votes from embittered Hillary Clinton loyalists, but a “knuckling under” to the religious right.

Gambling: Both choices were referred to as a political gamble (as opposed to a positive, bold stroke), consistent with the inexperience and tokenism frames. In 1984, the Christian Science Monitor suggested that choosing Ferarro was Mondale’s attempt to “deal the cards differently,” while the Atlanta Daily World called the choice a “gamble” predicated on the strength of women’s support. In 2008, the Toronto Globe and Mail called the choice of Palin “one of the bigger gambles in U.S. political history,” while the Los Angeles Times counted the Palin selection as part of McCain’s penchant for gambles.

“The Palin Watch” project is directed by Dr. Janis Edwards, associate professor of communication studies in the UA College of Communication and Information Sciences and editor of a forthcoming book on gender and political communication in America.

Edwards has written extensively on the roles and rhetoric of women candidates and first ladies, and their representation in political cartoons and other media formats for a number of academic journals and conferences.